An Isanti couple wants to make a difference in the name of peace and justice within the West Bank of Palestine.
Rev. Dwight Haberman and his wife, Dr. Debra Ricci, returned in early May from a 10-week information gathering trip to the West Bank.
The most recent trip was Haberman’s ninth to the area, with the last three focused on justice issues. His previous trips had been more focused on religion and pilgrimages.
During the trip, Ricci said they visited and listened to the people, participated in demonstrations, networked with peace and justice groups, attended peace conferences and met with international peace activists.
We are going there because we know there are human rights abuses occurring,” Ricci said. “Dwight had gone on pilgrimages as a pastor, and it was during his last three trips that he caught on that this is happening.”
The May 2008 trip was Ricci’s third to the West Bank.
“While we were there we mostly listened to stories, because that is what we felt we had to do,” Ricci said. “As a Christian we have to be hopeful. Hopefully we’ve made progress in terms of solidarity, and hopefully we can get Americans to understand the situation.”
In 2003, Ricci was teaching a cultural course at St. Thomas, and a Palestinian American student caught her attention.
“He told me he had immigrated to America when he was 4 years old, and during a special report to the class he talked about what his life was like,” Ricci said.
“In what he reported, it clicked to me that I need to go see with my own eyes what was happening.”
Haberman said he keeps informed of the Palestinian and Israeli conflict, listens to the news, and reads newspapers about the ongoing conflict.
He lived in the West Bank for 10 months throughout 2004-05.
“We have Palestinians getting killed…,” Haberman said. “It’s basically a prison in the West Bank area we lived in. You can’t leave the area unless you have special privileges. You’re imprisoned in an environment with three cities, with a wall surrounding it.”
Haberman and Ricci said they really didn’t have any trouble visiting the area because of their white race. In fact, they were considered “privileged.”
“If you want to go there to see with your own eyes what’s happening, you really aren’t in any danger doing that as an American,” Ricci said. “Now is the time to go. Once you go there you will question everything you read and hear about the conflict in the mainstream media.”
Ricci said the people in the West Bank are craving freedom.
Haberman explained since 1967, Palestine has been occupied by Israel and under military control in virtually every respect, living in what he described as an “open air prison.”
Ricci said the Israelis use different strategies to control Palestine by acquiring more land, building settlements, destroying the economy/labor/infrastructure and harassing the people at checkpoints, keeping it hard for the Palestinians to move within their own country.
“They are people just like you and me who want freedom and peace,” Ricci said. “They are intelligent people, passionate … But they are highly oppressed, proud and resilient.”
Protesting the closing of an orphanage
While in the West Bank, Ricci and Haberman protested with Hebron orphanage girls regarding the closure of their orphanage by the Israeli military.
ImageWhile they were over there, the Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT) contacted clergy and members of the press to attend an emergency press conference in Hebron.
What they learned was in 1962, the Islamic Charitable Society (ICS) established four schools and two orphanages (one for girls and one for boys) in Hebron.
They found out the previous week the Israel Defense Forces stormed the orphanages in full military gear during the night and confiscated equipment, food, clothing, toys, three busses, money and more.
Haberman and Ricci learned Israeli officials had attempted last February to close the orphanages, which will leave 650 orphans in the street.
An order of the Israeli High Court has blocked the closing until now, and Haberman and Ricci are awaiting the outcome.
Since the raid, they learned CPT members have been sleeping in the girls’ orphanage to prevent further Israeli action.
They also learned Israel consistently harasses institutions funded by the ICS, which they say gets some of its funds from Hammas. When asked if this was true, the attorney for the ICS said 20 percent of the funds comes from local (Hebron) business and investments, and 80 percent from other countries (Arab countries, Europe, etc.)
“Despite the origin of the funds, these actions are completely illegal and violate every agreement signed between Israel and Palestine to date,” Haberman wrote via email. “The orphanages are located in Area A (Palestinian Territory) under full jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority into which the Israeli government may not interfere. International Law and the UN Declaration of Human Rights provides protection for children and stipulates that an occupier must provide for the basic needs (shelter, food, medical and educational, etc.) for all those in the occupied territory.
“During the press conference a phone call came in from Rabbi Arik Ascherman, executive director of Rabbis for Human Rights, who denounced the action stating that Israel is not acting according to civil law. Civil law protects against collective punishment and the harming of innocent people, and requires evidence and witnesses to bring about a closure,” he added.
Ricci and Haberman will lead a special presentation at the ARC Retreat Center on Sunday, Aug. 10, from 1 to 5 p.m.
The presentation will be an interactive program to learn about the Palestinian and Israeli conflict. There is a fee for the presentation.
For more information on the presentation, call 763-689-3540.